The average age of vehicles on U.S. roads is now over 12 years, report finds

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Experts say the pandemic caused many consumers to put off vehicle purchases

New research shows that Americans are driving their cars and trucks longer before replacing them, which is increasing the need for careful and regular maintenance.

A report from IHS Markit shows that the average age of light vehicles in operation (VIO) in the U.S. has risen to 12.1 years. That’s about two months longer than during the pandemic in 2020.

The report states that COVID-19 has played a major role in this trend. New cars are in short supply because of the shortage of computer chips, one effect of the pandemic. At the same time, prices of used cars have surged. Those two factors may have combined to persuade consumers to put off replacing their current vehicle.

“2020 was a radical departure from the norm and challenged assumptions about how vehicle owners use their vehicles and accumulate miles; from a vehicle fleet perspective, one of the real surprises was the number of vehicles that suddenly exited the active population,” said Todd Campau, associate director of Aftermarket Solutions at IHS Markit. 

More new cars coming soon

According to the company’s analysis, the rate and mix of vehicles no longer on the road raises the possibility that the number may be inflated by other factors. 

It was more difficult to register vehicles last year because many state offices were closed or limited hours. There’s also some evidence that some vehicles were put into storage due to COVID-19 restrictions in many locations and work-from-home initiatives.

The report’s authors don’t expect this trend to continue. Consumers have recently shown new enthusiasm for auto purchases, but sales have mostly been limited by a shortage of inventory. The team says this year will see a return of new vehicle registrations and increased activity in used registrations as the country gets back to normal.

Regular maintenance

In the meantime, consumers driving older vehicles should be mindful of maintenance needs. Regular oil changes -- at either 3,000 or 5,000 miles -- will provide an opportunity for a service tech to monitor your vehicle’s vital signs. Check your owner’s manual to determine when oil changes should occur.

It’s also important to monitor tire wear. Rotating the tires every 10,000 miles or so can prolong tire life. Performing a regular visual inspection is also a good idea to look for excessive wear that could pose a safety hazard.

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